tv Tavis Smiley WHUT September 17, 2009 8:30am-9:00am EDT
tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. tonight, a conversation with the eldest son of the late senator edward kennedy, ted kennedy jr. this week marks the release of the kennedy memoir, "true compass." he hopes to see a health-care bill passed this year which he believes would be a lasting tribute to his father's legacy. ted kennedy jr., coming up right now. >> there are so many things that wal-mart is looking forward to doing, like helping people live better. but mostly, we're helping build stronger communities and
relationships. with your help, the best is yet to come. >> nationwide insurance proudly supports "tavis smiley." tavis and nationwide, working together to improve financial literacy and the economic empowerment that comes with it. >> ♪ nationwide is on your side ♪ >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] tavis: ted kennedy jr. is the co-founder and president of the marwood group, a healthcare advisory and financial services firm. he is also a longtime advocate for the disabled. his passion stems from his own
experience. at the age of 12, he lost his leg to cancer, one of the subjects in the much talked- about memoir, "true compass." ted kennedy jr. joins us from arlington, out virginia. an honor to have you on the show. >> thank you for having me. tavis: let me start by saying, you're tribute to your father at that service was inspiring and towering -- and in powering and altogether uplifting. think you for your remembrances. i was moved to tears, as i know many of others were. thank you for sharing about your father the way that you did. >> thank you, tavis. it was one of the hardest things i have ever had to do is memorialize my dad, who loved so much, such a huge figure in my life. how you define somebody in 5, 10 minutes, it was one of the
hardest things i had to do. when i got emotional, of course i am sad for my father's passing, but i am just filled with gratitude, tavis, for all the different things that my father did, it gives that he had given to me. tavis: it was a great tribute. that may start with obvious, how does one wear the name of ted kennedy jr.? >> as i said in my eulogy, it has not always been easy to have the name ted kennedy jr. but i have never been more proud of it than i am today. growing up in a political family, you know, tavis, is not easy to have the scrutiny, the press, the time away that it takes to be involved in public
life. it is a very grueling business. but i saw how much satisfaction skin -- how much satisfaction my father got from the job. it has its benefits. that has its good things and it's bad. i am very proud of my family's legacy, so having that last name is something that has made me very proud. at the same time, i think people pre-judge who you are, wt you think, may have already formed an opinion about me because they have an opinion about my family. of course, my dad and his brothers before him have made some controversy, political decisions in their lives. not everyone is happy. you know that my dad has been on the liberal part of the democratic party for 50 years, and not everyone that we know is
a liberal democrat. my father has been a lightning rod for a lot of conservatives and other people who just do not share his political philosophy. at times, those statements, those criticisms have been personal. i would be lying to you if i told you that if some of those did not hurt my feelings personally, even though i know that he was a political being. tavis: yet after having seen what your had to indoor as a politician -- what your father had to endure as a politician, you have not ruled out running for office yourself? >> i think there are a lot of different ways to help people. of course, growing up in the kennedy family, we all think that one day or another about political life, out for ourselves or at some point in
the future. i think that perhaps i will go down that road. but you know what, it is too soon to say. i do not want to be a surrogate for my dad or a carbon copy of my dad. if and when i do go in to public office, seek public office, it will be with my own ideas, my inexperiences, and my own expertise in the different areas of health care and also disability law and policy that is really the subject of my life's work. what i think is great is this book that my father broke, "true compass," has been such a gift to me. he talks about all the different political incidents that he has been involved with all of his life. he bears his soul. it is an incredibly spiritual book. it is incredibly inspirational. that is why i wanted to come on the show and let your viewers
know how much they would get out of learning more about my dad through this book. tavis: one of the things that you learn in this book, and also those who have followed your family's legacy have heard these stories, but given the chance to write his first memoir, he talks about the competition within the family. how much this competition inside the kennedy family, how much has led to the kennedys being the type of public servants that have? >> we love competition. i think our dinner table conversations are like a jeopardy game. you have to be -- it is the stakes are high. if you want to enter a conversation on health care, on foreign affairs, domestic affairs, you have to have your facts straight.
i think all of us were competitive and intellectually, of course, on the legendary football field in front of my dad's home on cape cod, but, yes, we have always been competitive, but i think that we love and adore one another. in this book, "true compass," that my dad just completed writing, literally. he got a copy of this book the morning that he died. he was just shown a copy of this book, hot off the press. you see a family that was incredibly close knit, incredibly supportive. yes, while we were competitive with one another, we love each other and incredibly mutually supportive of one another. tavis: he talks about it in the book, he talks about this, what do you make of the fact that he was the one who got to live into
old age, to be able -- i have said it twice, but it bears repeating, of all the kennedy members, of all the members of that family, he is the only one who lived long enough to be able to write a memoir about his life. what do you make of that? >> i feel fortunate that i had my dad as long as i did. i am 47 years old. today, and meeting people all the time to come up and share with me how they lost a parent at age 5 or age 10. i feel really grateful that i had this wonderful man in my life. of course, i see my cousins' experience. my father was also a father to all of my cousins who lost their father as well. i was actually surprised, tavis, when he told me that he wanted to write a memoir. i have to say, i was a little surprised. but so many books have been
written about the kennedys, he then told me he had been taking these contemporaneous notes over 50 years. i knew that he took notes. i did not know the amount of notes that he took, almost on a daily basis. he felt like he really had a story to tell, and it was his story. so much has been said about the kennedys, he wanted to say his piece, not just about the family but so many political events that he had been been involved with. tavis: your dad talks about his ops and downs. as his son, the one who bears his name, and their father is going through these tumultuous times, -- when your father is going through these a tumultuous times, how did you navigate through that? he is your father and you love him, but you see him struggling with drinking and other things.
how did you handle that? >> i think as a child, you first worship your parents. then as you get older, you see them as a human being. at least that is what happened to me. i knew that my father was a human being and had strengths and weaknesses, just like everybody else. i think in this book, he wants to be remembered as a human being, and not idealized like his brothers were. i think that is the powerful story, tavis. here is a man who has been through so much, who, yes, had his shortcomings in his life, had his triumphs, but who worked hard each and every day. i think what his credo really is is perseverance. you like him or not, i think the
lesson really is, you try hard. yes, you make mistakes along the way, we are all of human beings, but you get the next morning and you try to do better. lo and behold, after 74 years, you actually accomplish something. that is about my father's life. he admired people who worked hard. my dad worked so hard. he was up, even on his vacations, at 6:30 a.m. that was one of the things that he really felt that he wanted to give back. yes, it was at times hard as his son to be him criticize or in the emotional agony that i saw him then, but it led me to really respect him even more. tavis: what did you make of it, and how did you process, the way that he handled -- my word, not years -- the pressure, the responsibility that he had,
given that he was the last one? >> well, he had a huge sense of responsibility. when he was 37 -- i am 47, when he was 37, he became the head of our family. that is a really awesome responsibility to have at that age. but you know what, he was a people person, okay? you can tell, you see the news clips of him even at the senate when he is shouting at the top of his lungs, he would throw his arm around strom thurmond or orrin hatch or john mccain at the end of the debate and say, did you really mean to say those mean things about me? you know, he just never took it personally. you see what i am saying? tavis: sure. >> the same is true in our family life. he loved being around kids,
playing football, going on our camping trips where we would spend the night in a tent in the berkshires in western massachusetts. nothing fancy, hot dogs on the grill, but that is what he really loved. yes, it was a big responsibility, but at the same time i think he loved every minute of it. tavis: to the extent that you can, share with me the conversations that you had with your father when he knew he was battling cancer and the hope that he had it that he could beat it given that he had two kids, a daughter and son, who had beaten cancer? i have to believe that he felt he could beat it, too. >> i think when my dad was diagnosed, tavis, i think he was a realist. he knew the odds. at the same time, he always wanted to keep hope.
he was an eternal optimist. but what is important is that he lived every single day of the last year-and-a-half to the full list. yes, he knew about his impending death. he knew that he had a terminal illness. but it is what we do with our lives at that point that is really the testament of a person. he was able to see barack obama be inaugurated as the president of the net states. he got to go skeet -- he got to go speak at the convention. he got to throw the first pitch of the boston red sox. he got to write his political memoirs. he got to really enjoy the accolades, not just from his friends and the democratic party, but from many of his sometimes political adversaries in the republican party.
they sent testaments of admiration and respect. i am so grateful, tavis, that my dad was able to experience all this. meanwhile, he passed mental- health parity legislation, he bought -- he got public service. president obama expanded americorps and name the bill after my dad. there were incredible that this latest achievements, even though he was not on the floor of the senate every single day. that is what i am grateful about. tavis: given all these years of service, and the liberal nature of his politics, there are not a lot of people in the u.s. senate or the house -- are there persons that we can point to in the kennedy ilk of being unabashed, unafraid of calling themselves liberal, calling themselves progressive and fighting for an agenda that every day considers the least
among us? what you make of the fact we do not have a lot of people like him to point to? -- what do you make of the fact we do not have a lot of people like to point to? >> i think there are a lot of incredible members of congress and the senate and statehouses across the country who are willing to take the risky stance. my father was for working on the emigration bill. he was concerned about prison rape. what about things like gun- control? he would get 15 votes. he did not care whether it the position was politically popular -- he did not care whether the position was politically popular. he wanted to work on the things that he thought were the right things to do. i think he came from a different political time, tavis, where in the early 1960's, he could just for and develop a personal relationship with people like senator simpson and hatch and
warner and these republicans who were his friends. honestly, he was friends with these members. i think that is gone, tavis. i think in this highly charged political environment that we live in today, people do not have time to build and develop these personal relationships, plus i think my father knew that he had a constituency that would back him up -- teachers, labor, the african-american community. so many communities so that when he had to make a tough stand or tough vote, he did not have to worry about what would happen to him every six years when he had to run for reelection. he knew that his friends would be they're supporting him every step of the way. that allowed him to take these risky political steps. tavis: what is your sense of the way that he made of the fact that he was highly regarded inside of the african-american community? >> i think my dad always felt
for people who have been left out and for people who have been treated unfairly. whether it has been the african- american experience in this country, the issues that i work on, the civil-rights movement for people with disabilities, refugees. my father was always for the underdog. he always stood up. he honestly felt like he had a moral obligation to stand up in the face of injustice in this world. i think that african-americans know who their political friends art. the experience it. it is fresh in our country's memory. let's face it, 1964, it was not that long ago, tavis. he was so proud, so proud of where our country had recently, as a nation, being able to -- so
proud of where our country had come as a nation. i think he could have died at the moment that barack obama was elected and be the happiest man alive. he saw the potential. i am not trying to say there are not problems that still exist, tavis, there are, but i think he was really proud of that a lot of progress has been made. obviously, is not just my dad. my uncle bobby and uncle jack, longstanding -- in fact, my father's first speech in the senate was on civil rights, the voting rights act and the poll tax. fighting for all of those things that a lot of african-americans who were born today may not really understand the extent to which many states were trying to deprive them of their right to vote by taxing them and others. it is incredible. you know that history, but it is important to remind people of that history so it never happens
again. tavis: just a few minutes left. first, your father closes this book by basically saying that we are going to remember him in any way, let's remember him connected to passing health care. he says it very clearly. that is what you have dedicate your life to, working for the disabled. talk to me about where you think this debate is headed on health care? >> i think if he were here, it would not be so tentative now in washington, d.c., because i think he was the master of bipartisan compromise and the legislative process. that said, i think we are on the cusp of passing universal reform. what that exactly mean, tavis, i don't know, but i think the president stated a beautiful case for the other night in
front of the joint session of congress. i think that we will have health care reform in this country. i think my father always believed that healthcare is a right and not a privilege of the lucky few. i thanked he is -- i think he is, i know that he wanted to be more involved in this debate, and i grieved for that, that he is not here to see this through, but i believe it will happen with or without him. tavis: we have referenced it, but tell me specifically about the work that you do. >> i am a health-care regulatory attorney, in addition to being a civil rights activist for people with disabilities. my company, we do regulatory analyses and the health-care sector. i work with a number of different hospitals, health care agencies, healthcare investors.
i am based in new york. we have an office in washington, d.c. that is what i try to do, make this process more understandable to people. tavis: what are the stakes specifically for you in seeing this health care legislation passed? >> my personal viewpoint is that we need universal health care. not just as something that is the moral thing to do, but as a taxpayer, quite honestly, we are paying for health care as it is. it is just coming in the form of uncompensated care in coming out of the people who have insurance to our cross subsidizing those who do not. -- people who have insurance are cross subsidizing those who did not. we have the greatest health care system in the world. we just need to make a system that is fair and accessible to everyone. tavis: finally, some any books written about the kennedy
family. what is your sense of what is in this text that a reader will learn about edward kennedy that we do not already know? >> i think when i was reading this book -- and i was nervous about opening this book. honestly, i started reading it three days after he died. i did not know really what to expect. although i knew some of the story picks, i had not read the whole book. -- although i knew some of the stories, i had not read the whole book. i felt like my father was speaking to me. it all comes across is my father's spirituality. i grew up in a catholic family, and catholics do not really talk about the bible or their spirituality, but what they -- what comes across is a very spiritual point. the second point, my father had deep emotions. i think he had to hold it together because we were all
standing on his shoulders for some years. i think he was finally able to let it out. those are the two things that i think readers will be most surprised about what they read of a " true compass." tavis: the new book is called "troop campus -- true com pass." ted kennedy jr., an honor to have you on the program. it that is our show for tonight. catch me on the weekend on public radio international. we will see back here next time on pbs. until then, good night from los angeles. and as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley on pbs.org. tavis: i am tavis mileage. to me next time for the story of dwayne betts, to transform his life -- i am tavis smiley.
join me next time for the story of plane that transformed his life during his jail sentence. it>> there are so many things that wal-mart is looking forward to doing, like helping people live better. but mostly, we're helping build stronger communities and relationships. because with your help, the best is yet to come. >> nationwide insurance proudly supports "tavis smiley." tavis and nationwide, working together to improve financial literacy and the economic empowerment that comes with it. >> ♪ nationwide is on your side ♪ >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] captioned by the national captioning institute --www.ncicap.org--